Slowed only by the rains, Kenya’s troops have been largely unopposed and made swift progress into Al Shabaab territory. Their real test could come in the town of Afmadow, where Al Shabaab has promised a massive confrontation. By SIMON ALLISON.
So far, the war of words between Kenya and Al Shabaab has been more vicious that the battle on the ground. Al Shabaab forces have been fleeing in the face of the incursion and Kenya now controls two towns inside Somalia, Dhobley and Qoqani. There have been five Kenyans killed – in a helicopter crash rather than fighting.
Progress to their next target, Afmadow, has been slowed by the rains which have chosen this moment to provide some relief from the long, famine-causing drought. But Afmadow is where Al Shabaab has promised battle and various reports suggest the Islamic militant group is requisitioning trucks to transfer as many soldiers – both professional and conscripted – as it can to the town only 90km from the Al Shabaab stronghold of Kismaayo. Its forces are also reported to be digging defensive trenches and tunnels. Residents are said to be fleeing to the Kenyan border for safety.
In the meantime, Al Shabaab has been warning Kenya of the repercussions of its actions. “Kenya has peace, its cities have tall buildings and business is booming there, while Somalia is in chaos. If your government ignores our calls to stop its aggression on Somali soil, we will strike at the heart of your interests,” said a spokesman.
Kenya’s response has been bullish. “Let them try… Kenya has the capacity, ability, and the will to defend its people and its territory. Let them try; the consequences will be dire for anyone who thinks that they can now walk in and out of Kenya to lay mischief with impunity,” said Kenya’s foreign minister Moses Wetangula.
The mandate of Kenya’s forces remains unclear. Is it trying to wipe out Al Shabaab? Or will Kenya stop when it has established a comfortable buffer zone? Either way, it’s unlikely it’ll be able to maintain its swift advance for long. DM
Photo: Al Shabaab fights. Reuters.
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